“If You Can Stand Us, Come Back”
The year was 2000. I felt led of the Lord to begin helping out with the youth at our church. I wasn’t sure what I would do. I knew I didn’t want to wind up on a bus filled with noisy teens, traveling for miles to get to some event. That seemed really scary to me. (Not to mention nerve-wracking.)
I talked to the youth pastor about it. His advice was, “Come some Wednesday night and hang out. If you can stand us, come back.” (He thought the music would be too loud and the kids too rowdy for me.)
At first I just sat at the back of the room. Other than praying for the kids (unbeknownst to them, of course), and smiling a lot, I didn’t do much. But I kept going back. Week after week. Eventually, one or two of the girls would approach me and want to talk. They might tell me about a problem they had encountered that day; or family problems; or relationship problems. Soon others were doing the same thing. I was hooked.
A few years later, when another youth pastor came on the scene, he set up small groups. Each of the sponsors was over a group of 8 to 10 students. I was with my group of kids for over two years. I got to know them and hear their heartaches, their pain, and their accomplishments, and their victories. They came to trust me. And I came to love each one of them.
Fifteen years have come and gone, and I’m still hanging out with teens. They are my babies, and I love them. Some of the ones I started out with years ago, are now married with kids of their own.
Live in Their World
Early in my writing career, I knew I wanted to write for children and teens. In fact, I taught writing workshops, sharing tips and techniques for writing for that genre. One of the tips I emphasized was, “If you want to write for kids, you need to hang out with kids. Know who they are. Live in their world.”
When I was teaching those workshops, my own kids were still under my roof, so it was easy to follow my own advice. Little did I know that, years later, I would be following that advice in an even greater way – hanging out with teens on a consistent basis.
I write for teens – that’s my chosen genre. And I am totally convinced that being in such close proximity with these precious kids, brings me into an intimate awareness of how they think and feel. And hence, makes me a better author. But there’s so much more to it.
Reaping a Harvest
Below are posts that showed up on my FB page on my recent birthday, from a few of my kids:
Happy birthday to one of the most influential people in my life, Norma Jean Lutz. You have impacted my life in such a tremendous way and I’m forever grateful that God put you in my life, especially with all that went on last year and you being there for me when I needed someone like you the most. So, Happy Birthday NormaJean, I love you so much and thank you for all you do and your heart for us crazy kids!
A very special happy birthday to this bright and shining light that God so perfectly placed in my life. I’m not sure that I have ever met any other person who carries the joy of The Lord like this precious lady. I am so thankful to have you as a friend and spiritual leader in my life. You are such an inspiration. Love you so much.
Norma Jean, I’m thanking God today for bringing such an amazing woman into my life at such an impressionable age. You have been used by God more than you’ll ever know in the lives of His children. You are a great and wonderful gift to His kingdom and to all that you have poured into. Thank you for following your calling. And happy birthday!
Yes, being involved with these kids makes me a better writer. But, as demonstrated in these posts, they also greatly enrich my life and make me a better citizen of the human race.
I’m infatuated with teenagers!
(And I never have ridden on a bus full of noisy teenagers – just luck, I guess.)